Forecasters issued a severe thunderstorm watch on the D.C. area through 7 p.m., with residents warned to brace for power outages and dangerous conditions from a system heading for the mid-Atlantic region.
"There is a risk for a significant severe weather event this afternoon with the potential for widespread damaging winds as well as large hail and a few tornadoes," the National Weather Service warning said. A flash flood watch remained in effect through Thursday evening along with warnings of falling trees and branches.
The afternoon and evening storms, expected to build around 3 p.m., were predicted to be the second storm to descend on the area Thursday after heavy rains fell early in the day. Some counties in the D.C. area reported power outages, fallen trees and hail the size of half dollars Thursday morning, with wind gusts ranging from 30-50 mph.
The storm, which made its way from the Midwest, did not swell to a derecho as some had feared it might.
Large hail was reported in Maryland's Carroll County and in Virginia's Fauquier County, with reports of a water spout east of Annapolis and trees down in Frederick.
The Prince George's County Public Schools system announced it would be closing its schools and offices at 1 p.m. in advance of the storms and canceling its afternoon activities. Scattered charter schools in the District also announced early closings.
By 1:30 p.m., Washington Dulles International Airport reported delays of up to 2-1/2 hours.
The storms were part of a larger system that forecasters projected could affect 74.7 million people in 19 states from Iowa to Maryland.
In Ohio, storms with swift, straight-line winds soaked parts of the state, knocking down trees and barns and leaving many without power Thursday as commuters dodged fallen branches on roads and faced backups at intersections where traffic lights were out.
A flash flood watch for the entire state of Pennsylvania was issued through Thursday night. Rush-hour commuters tried to get to work in the morning amid torrential downpours and dark skies that made it look like nighttime.
In northern New York, rain sent rivers and streams over their banks, leading to evacuations and road closures.
Overnight, thunderstorms that punched through northern Illinois caused significant wind damage, mainly in rural areas west and south of Chicago. The city was largely spared. The Weather Service said intense winds estimated to have reached 70-80 mph in some areas snapped large trees at their trunks or uprooted them entirely.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports
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